Navigating a pandemic and fighting for health workers
Forward, Together for care work
By Lana Payne Campaign
During the pandemic, a group of brilliant women published the Care Economy statement. It says: “The pandemic has exposed how our social infrastructure underpins our physical, social, psychological, and economic health. This care economy is critical to our survival during the pandemic and will be critical to our emergence from the pandemic. The pandemic has revealed that a more resilient future requires transformational change, not just a return to ‘normal.’”
The Care Economy statement suggests that we need to shift our mode of thinking from one that sees care work strictly as an expenditure to one where we understand that investing in people and good jobs actually has a positive impact on society.
As trade unionists, we are no strangers to this idea. We constantly make the argument that there is no better way to ensure prosperity than to create good jobs and make sure that workers are treated with fairness, justice and equality.
We live in a world where care work is undervalued and underpaid. Care workers are doing too much with too little. This isn’t a new reality, but the pandemic has shed new light on the daily challenges care workers know all too well.
What would it look like if workers of all ages, genders, and experiences could make a decent living by being a care worker? What if governments funded care systems, such as health care, long-term care, retirement residences, child care and education just as much as they fund other seemingly more lucrative industries? What would happen if our society looked at decent work, inequality and equity as matters of public health?
As workers, it is up to us to imagine what the future looks like and in the case of care work, to understand that we must be part of the fundamental shift that will prioritize care.
Throughout the pandemic, our union adjusted its normal operations and navigated an internal shift of our very own. Under my coordination, the union’s pandemic task force accomplished the following:
Prioritized the union’s work to respond to urgent workplace and worker-based needs during the many phases of the pandemic
Fought for protections, pay and respect for front line and health workers
Tracked COVID-19 cases in Unifor-represented workplaces, one of the only unions to have done that from the start
Transposed the experiences of front line union members to the union’s government advocacy at all levels
My experience in navigating our union’s pandemic response was a small glimpse into what we can do when we are intentional about putting the health, safety and well-being of workers at the heart of everything that we do.
Care workers are still going through challenges today. We need this fundamental shift in the way our society operates so that we can truly put care (and love!) at the center of our economy.